As the 7th annual event comes to a close, we spoke with two staff members from the Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM), a non-profit organization aimed at creating opportunities for Latino Immigrants in California and throughout North America. COFEM is located in the California Desert region and has participated in Latino Conservation Week for several years.

Vanessa Moreno, COFEM’s Coachella Program Coordinator, and Jazmin Ibarra, COFEM’s Program Assistant, talked to us about their experiences with Latino Conservation Week and why conservation is so important to Latinx communities in the California Desert.

Vanessa and Jazmin also share their love for the California Desert and talk about their favorite places to explore. If you’ve been following along recently, you’ll know that we’ve been featuring Love Notes for the California Desert on our social media channels. We invite you to join Vanessa and Jazmin in sharing your love for this special place as well. Learn more here!

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Vanessa Moreno, Coachella Program Coordinator with Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM), enjoys a scenic view at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in Riverside County.

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Jazmin Ibarra, Program Assistant with Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM), on a winter hike through Joshua Tree National Park.

Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)’s Interview with Vanessa and Jazmin, Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM)

CLF: Why is Latino Conservation Week important to your work in the California Desert?

Vanessa & Jazmin: Latino Conservation Week is an opportunity to highlight and uplift the voices of Latinx communities that participate in environmental justice. We are surrounded by a Desert that is always at risk of development. Therefore, we need to be a voice for the Desert because it cannot speak for itself.

Involving the Latinx community, especially immigrants and farmworkers, as advocates and supporters is crucial because they understand what is at stake and because many are living in underserved cities and working in the outdoor industry.

There is a large Latinx community in our region but not a lot of representation in local politics nor accessibility to nature. Community advocacy with local elected officials is important because community members can share personal testimonies and stories about their connections to these places. This helps our elected officials understand the importance of the California Desert to our local communities, which in turn helps reduce barriers of access to our public lands.

CLF: Tell us about this year’s Latino Conservation Week activities in the California Desert.

Vanessa & Jazmin: For the past few years, COFEM has collaborated with organizations in CLF’s Friends Grassroots Network and attended hikes, guided Spanish tours, and cultural events enhancing the experiences of participants of the California Desert.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our LCW activities this year are virtual to meet CDC guidelines. For example, this week COFEM hosted a Zoom workshop, Facebook Live event, and social media campaigns. These events helped bridge everyday embedded activities of the Latinx culture like dance, music, recycling habits, and storytelling to conservation efforts in order to strengthen the connection between people and public lands.

Latino Conservation Week serves as an opportunity to engage Latinx communities who have not had their first experiences with nature. Through hikes and virtual workshops, folks are introduced to conservation allowing them explore the possibilities of outdoor recreation, which then captivates them to learn about the importance of protecting public lands and wildlife habitat. As a result, these communities become advocates of the Desert.

CLF: Recently, we launched a social media campaign that invites people to share their Love Notes for the California Desert. What’s your Love Note to this special place?

Vanessa & Jazmin: Every place we visit in the California Desert leaves a special memory because we get to share the space in community. Some of our community members’ favorite places in the California Desert (and ours too!) are the San Jacinto Mountains and Big Morongo Canyon Preserve (BMCP) at the Sand to Snow National Monument. When visiting the San Jacinto Mountains and BMCP, some of our community members have shared the similarities they see between their homeland and these places, and they often share beautiful memories of their past.

Dos Palmas Preserve and the Amboy Crater at the Mojave Trails National Monument are also two of our favorite places because of the unique experiences we’ve had here. Living in the Eastern Coachella Valley, it can be challenging to access places to camp. But thanks to organizations like Friends of the Desert Mountains, the Dos Palmas Preserve is a wonderful place to camp and it’s less than an hour drive from Coachella Valley.

When we camped at Dos Palmas, it was incredible to be so close to home but yet be able to view a sky full of stars, bats and frogs at night. We felt as if wildlife and nature was speaking to us. Amboy Crater is at the top of our favorites list because hiking on a dormant volcano is the most awesome experience!

CLF: Thank you, Vanessa and Jazmin, for sharing your passion for conservation with us!

You can read our earlier conversation with Hispanic Access Foundation about the purpose of Latino Conservation Week and why Latinx advocacy is critical to conservation work here.

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